Twitter is still dealing with the same problem it’s had since its inception. It’s not a mainstream social network like Facebook, but a niche product for plugged-in folks obsessed with media, tech, and instant news and commentary.
In its earnings report Tuesday, Twitter once again showed that user growth is not that impressive. It now has 255 million monthly active users, making it smaller than other social networks like LinkedIn (300 million), WhatsApp (500 million), and WeChat (355 million). And it’s nowhere close to Facebook, which has 1.28 billion monthly active users.
For all its buzz, Twitter is still relatively tiny and not gaining users as quickly as its rivals.
It’s now clear that Twitter as a product isn’t something people normal folks are turning to for sharing everything that happens in their lives. And, as Twitter’s executives pointed out during Tuesday’s earnings call, activity is heavily dependent on big events like the Oscars, Grammys, and the upcoming World Cup. If nothing is happening right now, then people aren’t tweeting.
Part of that is the nature of Twitter’s product. Unless you’re constantly checking it, it doesn’t make sense if you log off for a few hours. The stream is so instantaneous and in the moment that it’s not very useful for the casual user. It’s like jumping in the middle of a rapidly changing conversation without any context.
Twitter’s attempt to solve that problem is to make the service look more like Facebook. Its new profile view, for example, is almost a direct clone of the Facebook profile. It even has pop-up windows whenever you get a new direct message or interaction. On mobile apps, there’s the “Discover” tab, which features older tweets that will likely be relevant to you based on the people you already follow. But those changes just make the product more confusing and annoying, and takes away from the core of what Twitter is — what’s happening now.
It’s a great product for obsessed media types, but not for casual users Twitter seems to be trying to court.
And that’s OK!
Twitter doesn’t need to be as mainstream as Facebook. It’s already proven that it has a solid business based on what it is now. Revenue is growing. ($250 million last quarter, up 119%). Plus, the company’s acquisition of the mobile ad platform MoPub last year has given it a steady revenue stream even without a skyrocketing user base. Twitter could turn into a successful mobile ad platform, even without a horde of normal users like its rivals have.